“The Puzzle Murder Case”
The puzzle murder case, as some of the more imaginative members of our daily press called it, was something of a nine days’ wonder in New York. Philip van der Lyine, the amateur sleuth who eventually solved the mystery, thought it only one of his more middling efforts, however—a reaction that infuriated District Attorney Mattham and Sgt. O’Rourke, who had exhausted both of their considerable intellects in pursuit of the solution.
The case proper began when the District Attorney burst into Mr. van der Lyine’s study and started to rave about the murder of Horace Littel, the puzzle expert.
“Now, now,” drawled van der Lyine, puffing on one of those infinitesimal Persian cigarettes that he inexplicably fancies, “we’d best begin at the beginnin’. As one of the old Anglican divines—I’m engaged in a study of early Anglicanism at the moment—put it…”
“Shut up,” Mattham snapped.
“Well, yes,” van der Lyine responded, unperturbed. “I heard somethin’ about Littel’s death, yes, but how does that concern you, Mattham, old sport?”
“He’s been murdered, van der Lyine—shot through the head. And we’ve got nothing to go on—no clues, no fingerprints, no suspects!—except this.”
He thrust an object into van der Lyine’s hand. It was a slip of paper with the most curious set of words on it—in order, then: fax[/i] headed the list, followed by [i]shops[/i], [i]chips[/i], [i]babbages[/i] (after which the ink was blotted—curious, though Philip van der Lyine), and [i]rings, with the s trailing off—and a blood stain to the side.
“My, my, Mattham, old horse, this has left even me bemused, as well as amused,” van der Lyine chuckled. “You’re sure it’s not Littel’s to-do list?”
“Very funny,” snapped Mattham. “Littel did write it, though—while he was in the presence of his killer, we think.”
“From the evidence of the bloodstained s, I suppose.”
“Yes, and also the fact that, according to the three persons closest to him—his friend Mr. Smayle, his maid Mrs. Wesck, and his nephew, Tom Littel—he had something of a one-track mind and could not go on to another puzzle for days while he was working on one. Yet he must have started it while in his murderer’s presence, because (1) it was not the puzzle he’d been working on and (2) it was also not what he was supposed to write for that week. He wrote a puzzle column for the Tribune, as you know.”
“Indeed I do,” drawled the Great Man, smiling. “Always found those puzzles a bit too easy—eh, what?”
“Uh-huh,” muttered a sarcastic Mattham, who didn’t much value calling van der Lyine into his cases. “That’s why I came to you. Well, there’s a puzzle for you, probably: what to make of it? It’s either a puzzle or the most ordered piece of nonsense I’ve ever come across.”
“Well, m’dear Mattham, you go and search for physical evidence and all that sort of thing—or whatever it is you police chappies”—Mattham genuinely winced—“do with your time. I’ll set to work on this.”
And set to work he did, indeed. He looked through every puzzle book he could find, he used deductive, inductive, abductive, and every other -ductive logic in existence, he immersed himself in Greek and Roman texts (in the original Greek or Latin, of course) to see what the Classics had to say on codes—and nothing. Absolutely nothing. Two days after Mattham had called, van der Lyine was burning the midnight oil—and despondent. He needed something to take his mind off the riddle—the Anglican divines again? Anglican divines… That was interesting. No, but the thought vanished from his mind. Perhaps, he considered, he needed a key word—and, without that word, it was all hopeless. Or another mathematical equation, perhaps? A… Wait a moment. Mathematical? Babbage. Babbage was a mathematician. Yes, indeed—and there was another mathematician…
The telephone rang.
“Van der Lyine!” It was Mattham, and he was screaming. “You awake? I’m sorry, but…”
“Yes, yes, I’m here,” drawled the Great Man. “Well?”
“Well! The murderer’s confessed, van der Lyine. Forget about the puzzle. The murderer is…”
“Ah,” van der Lyine sighed. “One ought never to forget about the puzzle. Adds spice to life, I say. My dear Mattham, I know who the murderer is.”
“Of course, m’D.A. The murderer is…”